This article by Archbishop Naumann, Chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, provides a brief overview of Catholics’ responsibilities to protect and defend human life as we approach the polls. It explains why the U.S. bishops recently affirmed, “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority.”
Priorities at the Polls
By Most Reverend Joseph F. Naumann
As Catholics approach the polls, we are asked to weigh many important issues. The U.S. bishops have reaffirmed that “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.” While they did warn us not to “dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty, and the death penalty,” they did give priority to upholding and defending our brothers’ and sisters’ most basic right—to live.
Abortion tragically ends someone’s life when he or she is most vulnerable and most in need of loving protection. Abortion is an intrinsic evil, meaning that it is never permitted or morally justified, regardless of individual circumstances or intentions. The personal and societal consequences of attacks against human life, whether at its earliest stages or at its final stages, are all the more serious because most often they are “carried out in the very heart of and with the complicity of the family—the family which by its nature is called to be the ‘sanctuary of life.’” This is the place where a person should be most loved, cherished, and protected.
Catholics are called to defend human life wherever it is threatened and stand up for human dignity wherever it is violated. The enormous number of human lives destroyed by abortion is one factor that elevates its importance. The most recent available data indicates over 2,000 children per day die from abortion in the United States. Since abortion was legalized in 1973, over 61 million children have been killed—and untold numbers of women and men suffer in the aftermath.
The tragedy of abortion is also distinct in that it is currently legal to directly and intentionally take the life of an innocent human being. Current laws in our country fail to protect the lives of unborn children. Our highest Court does not recognize children in their mothers’ wombs as persons and claims that abortion is a constitutional right. Further, many political leaders work actively to increase access to abortion. Some falsely describe it as health care and even as a basic human right.
People of good will must boldly stand up against this intrinsic evil, especially when it is occurring on a massive scale, implemented in law and funded, in some instances, by the government. As believers and citizens inspired by the Gospel and guided by the shepherds of our Church, we must do what we can to end violence in the womb, to ensure that unborn children are fully recognized and protected by our laws, and to support mothers and fathers in embracing life.
.Archbishop Naumann is Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas
and Chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States, Introductory Letter, p. 6. Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2020. https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/upload/forming-consciences-for-faithful-citizenship.pdf
Pope John Paul II, Evangelium vitae, (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995), 11.
Excerpts from Evangelium vitae, © 1995, Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Copyright © 2020, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. Reprinted (excerpted) from Respect Life Program © 2020, USCCB, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.
Please find the full text of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship at www.faithfulcitizenship.org.
Key Quotes from Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics
A Statement by the Catholic Bishops of the United States (November 1998)
- Both as Americans and as followers of Christ, American Catholics must be committed to the defense of life in all its stages and in every condition. (5)
- [A]bortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others. They are committed against those who are weakest and most defenseless, those who are genuinely "the poorest of the poor." (5)
- [W]e write therefore today to call our fellow citizens back to our country's founding principles, and most especially to renew our national respect for the rights of those who are unborn, weak, disabled and terminally ill. (6)
- [W]e call on U.S. Catholics, especially those in positions of leadership … to recover their identity as followers of Jesus Christ and to be leaders in the renewal of American respect for the sanctity of life. (7)
- No one, least of all someone who exercises leadership in society, can rightfully claim to share fully and practically the Catholic faith and yet act publicly in a way contrary to that faith. (7)
- We cannot simultaneously commit ourselves to human rights and progress while eliminating or marginalizing the weakest among us. Nor can we practice the Gospel of life only as a private piety. American Catholics must live it vigorously and publicly, as a matter of national leadership and witness, or we will not live it at all. (20)
- Bringing a respect for human dignity to practical politics can be a daunting task. There is such a wide spectrum of issues involving the protection of human life and the promotion of human dignity. Good people frequently disagree on which problems to address, which policies to adopt and how best to apply them. But for citizens and elected officials alike, the basic principle is simple: We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem. (21)
- Adopting a consistent ethic of life, the Catholic Church promotes a broad spectrum of issues….Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages of life. But being 'right' in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the 'rightness' of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. (23)
- If we understand the human person as the "temple of the Holy Spirit" -- the living house of God -- then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house's foundation. These directly and immediately violate the human person's most fundamental right — the right to life. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. (23)
- For our part we commend Catholic and other public officials who, with courage and determination, use their positions of leadership to promote respect for all human life. (31)
- We urge those Catholic officials who choose to depart from Church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life to consider the consequences for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin. We call on them to reflect on the grave contradiction of assuming public roles and presenting themselves as credible Catholics when their actions on fundamental issues of human life are not in agreement with Church teaching. (32)
- No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life. (32)
- The Gospel of Life must be proclaimed, and human life defended, in all places and all times. The arena for moral responsibility includes not only the halls of government, but the voting booth as well. (33)
- Laws that permit abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are profoundly unjust, and we should work peacefully and tirelessly to oppose and change them. Because they are unjust they cannot bind citizens in conscience, be supported, acquiesced in, or recognized as valid. (33)
- We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity meaningfully to participate in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power. (34)
- Freedom always implies the ability to choose between two roads: one which leads to life; the other, death (Dt 30:19). It is now our turn to choose. (39)